Five privately owned water treatment facilities in Pennsylvania, capable of recycling up to 700,000 gallons of flowback, produced, tophole and drill water a day, are up and running in the booming gas and oilfields of the Marcellus Shale region. 

Officials at Aquatech International Corp., a global company that specializes in water purification and wastewater treatment technology, say the plants — operated by Fluid Recovery Services (FRS), a company recently acquired by Aquatech — will make the fracking process more environmentally friendly by reducing the use of freshwater. Fracking a typical deep-shale natural gas or oil well requires about three to five million gallons of water, according to industry estimates. 

Extending life 

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“The ability to recycle and reuse treated water extends the life cycle of water and reduces the demand on freshwater resources for oil and gas production,” says Devesh Mittal, vice president and general manager for shale gas at Aquatech, based in Canonsburg. 

The Tioga plant recycles about 99 percent of the water received. “Other than the recycled treated water, hardly anything leaves the site, except for sludge, which is disposed of at landfills,” Mittal says. 

The other plants’ strategic locations in Creekside, Franklin, Josephine, Rouseville and Tioga also yield other eco-friendly benefits by reducing the mileage truckers drive to transport frac water to municipal treatment facilities and deliver freshwater to well pads. That, in turn, will reduce carbon emissions, noise, dust, traffic congestion and wear-and-tear on local roads, Mittal explains. 

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“We are at the forefront of something that benefits all stakeholders, from the oil and gas industry to the regulatory framework to the overall public,” Mittal says. “FRS is here to provide water treatment services in a way that maximizes the economic benefits to these producers and also addresses the need for environmentally responsible solutions.” 

The treatment capacities at each of the five plants range from 3,000 to 5,000 barrels per day, or 150,000 to 210,000 gallons per day, depending on the level of suspended solids in the water. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection governs plant capacities by issuing permits. Current volume at the five plants fluctuates, but Mittal estimates they currently operate at 60 to 80 percent capacity. 

On the move 

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Two of the treatment facilities possess mobile water purification equipment. In addition to servicing the central facility location, these units can also be deployed to provide on-site water treatment at well pads, further reducing trucking requirements. Treatment equipment also can be moved from plant to plant as dictated by demand, Mittal notes. 

“If drilling activity picks up in Tioga, for instance, we can move some of our mobile assets there,” he explains. “But if it is slow there and busy elsewhere, we can accommodate that, too. By offering a network of central facilities we can use the mobility of our assets to our advantage and bring assets to bear as services are required.” 

The treatment centers should also benefit production companies through lower water trucking expenses. Mittal says that as a rule of thumb, it costs about $1 per barrel per hour of trucking time to transport water for treatment, plus disposal fees incurred at municipal treatment centers. 

“We’re talking about gas producers saving millions of dollars annually,” he says. 

Suitable for fracking 

The two facilities with mobile water purification equipment treat water with two different technologies called MoTreat and MoVap. MoTreat is a pretreatment process that results in water with total suspended solids (TSS) of less than 20 ppm, rendering it suitable for reuse in fracking. It can also treat water for hardness, bacteria and select precipitation of metals. 

A second-tier process called MoVap utilizes an industrial-scale distillation process that produces ultra-clean water, with total dissolved solids (TDS) of less than 500 ppm. The MoTreat and MoVap processes can be customized to produce water that meets varying customers’ criteria for reuse. 

“These solutions ensure a consistent water composition, with minimal undesired contamination,” Mittal says. “This enables predictable production characteristics, such as consistent hydrofracturing and minimal downhole scaling.” 

At the Tioga facility, Aquatech also plans to install a crystallizer that turns produced brine water into a purified distillate and reusable salt, suitable for use in the oil and gas industry, Mittal says. 

“Through the MoVap evaporator, we separate the wastewater into two streams,” Mittal says. “The first is a purified stream, with less than 500 TDS, which is considered ‘dewasted’ and can be reused by the oil and gas industry. This ‘dewasted’ distillate can be stored in freshwater impoundments. The second stream, which has a higher salt content, is trucked to disposal wells. 

“In terms of the volume of water in the oil and gas industries that requires management in Marcellus and Utica regions, we address a clear need for growing water management services,” he says. “That need was not being adequately addressed by the existing infrastructure of water treatment facilities. The network of our five facilities and the menu of services they offer creates the necessary infrastructure to address these water management needs.” 

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